Finding ways to pay for college is a top priority for East Syracuse-Minoa mom Kate Walters along with millions of parents across the country.

With a daughter heading to college next year – Walters is working on college preparations and seeking financial aid every chance she gets.

Her son Jack, who is only a freshman in high school, is signing on for two years of free tuition through the Onondaga Community College Advantage program.

“I wish that this had been available for her also, so we’re thrilled that we can start thinking about this,” said Kate Walters. “Jack and I have already done a tour at OCC and just walked around and gotten a feel for the campus and he already feels really comfortable there.”

Jack says he is looking forward to two years of free college and has plans to transfer to Ithaca College or Syracuse University.

“I have already looked at some broadcasting stuff and I am a huge person on track and field and they have a great track and field team there,” Jack said. “It just really looks like the type of school for me for the first two years.”

For now, the program is available to members of the class of 2020 at Solvay High School and East Syracuse Minoa Central High Schools.

The OCC Foundation has set a scholarship endowment goal of $5 million to permanently support four semesters of full tuition at OCC for the students from Solvay and ESM who successfully meet specific benchmarks each of their four years of high school. 

“We have raised more than $100,000 in gifts and pledges,” said Lisa R. Moore, Executive Director of the OCC Foundation. “The OCC Advantage scholarship endowment supports one of the key priorities of OCC’s new strategic plan. We want to forge stronger relationships with local school districts to help students develop habits that promote college and career readiness.”

Moore says the overall goals in this effort include improving attendance, having students stay on track academically without repeating classes, and also having them commit to community service.

ESM Schools Superintendent Dr. Donna DeSiato and some parents are OCC alums themselves.

“We don’t want any of our freshman to miss their shot or their opportunity,” DeSiato shared during a Tuesday night ceremony.

Sarrah Van Deuson, who is an OCC alum and a parent of a member of the ESM Class of 2020, says she is looking forward to having her son be in an intimate classroom setting when he goes to college.

“I loved the saving money part, of course,” Van Deuson said. “One of the students talked about the smaller intimate classes and that’s definitely true. You are not sitting in a giant lecture hall. You do see the professors you can approach them and I think that’s a huge benefit going to college.”

All students at ESM who meet attendance and grade point average requirements and also complete community service will be eligible to attend OCC tuition-free. The GPA requirement is 2.0 which is the letter grade equivalent of a “C.”

Once enrolled at OCC students will have two years to complete work toward an associate degree or certificate, preparing them for a career or transfer to a four-year institution. During their time on campus students must meet minimum grade point average requirements and perform community service.